Learning vs Performance – The Dichotomy



The shift has happened. The focus has moved from “learning” to “performance”. “Training” as a panacea for all ills – from lack of productivity to lack of motivation, attrition, and lost profits – is losing its power. Our education system had inculcated the belief that “learning” is all about gaining information and knowledge and being able to remember that long enough to answer exam questions. The standardized tests verified everyone’s capabilities against the same parameters. The lucky few whose capabilities matched the parameters came out with flying colors. The rest of us went on to believe we were stupid or incapable. The report card with the grades in bold attested the belief. Today, Google and the Internet has eliminated the need to remember information. The basic premise of standardized schooling is (hopefully) vanishing.

This mode of rote learning carried over into the workplace along with the prerequisite for conformity. The industrial era required the completion of standardized work and obedient workers who would follow pre-defined processes. So, a loop of training followed by application of the knowledge and processes learnt became the norm. It was “learn, then work.” Through repeated application, employees gained expertise and efficiency was a direct outcome. Supervision and appraisals were centered on safeguarding conformance. Those deviating from set processes wasted valuable time – their own and others – and were speedily brought to book. Managers devised process improvement; the workers were re-trained on the new and improved processes, where applicable. There was no need for a holistic understanding since everyone had to focus on their part of the process. Everything worked beautifully like the veritable machine it was.

With the passing of the industrial era, the ground began shifting under everyone’s feet. One world was dead and the other still powerless to be born…Process optimization and re-optimization, process engineering and re-engineering – nothing seemed to be working. The premise that one could be trained first and then put on-the-job was based on the ability to transfer explicit knowledge and tried and tested processes. Training looked backward on what had worked in the past. Training didn’t teach the meta-skills of learning nor did it foster the abilities for creative thinking, innovation and pattern sensing – all necessary 21C skills. Most importantly, training couldn’t capture tacit knowledge and nor could it prepare the employees for a rapidly changing landscape. Training wasn’t necessarily leading to the desired performance outcome anymore. It’s rapidly becoming evident that training will increasingly have a tiny role to play in workplace learning and performance. Frameworks like the 70:20:10 has espoused this for many years now. So I won’t repeat any of those points. I will instead focus on few other aspects that we (L&D) miss out or don’t focus on enough when thinking of workplace performance in the Knowledge Era.

In this context, a discussion with a friend led me to the video on Knowing-Doing Gap by Bob Proctor. He brings up some interesting aspects of the conscious and the unconscious mind. What I found particularly interesting as a learning designer is his description of the conscious mind as an information gathering tool. I urge you to see the video. While he brings a coaching angle to it, the mention of paradigm shifts and the need to tap into the unconscious mind is important – more so in today’s context – where information gathering no longer yields the results it earlier did. To be successful at acquiring new skills at the speed of need, we need to be able to tap into our unconscious mind which is the seat of our paradigms. The question is, “How does this information impact us, the L&D folks”. I think this could have a huge impact. Some further research into the Knowing-Doing Gap led me to his website:http://www.coedu.usf.edu/zalaquett/kdg.html#terminology. This summarizes the various reasons behind the existence of such gaps, including explicit and tacit knowledge, subconscious paradigms, limiting beliefs, fixed vs. growth mindset, fear of failure, and so on.

We know that effective learning leads to visible behavior change. That is, it has a direct impact on performance. People should start to do things differently. However, we also know that a training program – even a well-designed one – doesn’t guarantee any behavior change. Training is an event. The effect of the Forgetting Curve sets in soon after the event is over. For visible performance outcome, we need to enable paradigm shifts. This goes beyond the realm of training or even informal and social learning. IMHO, individuals participate in social learning only when they believe that this will lead to performance improvement and professional growth. This in turn requires the fostering of agrowth mindset and a letting go of limiting beliefs – both critical paradigm shifts. One of the reasons why enterprise collaboration platforms aren’t always used effectively could be that employees don’t believe it will help them. Add to this a fear of failure and unwillingness to expose one’s ignorance, and sharing and collaboration – the pillars of social learning – fall apart. Without a shift in these important paradigms, it could be difficult to see a change in performance in spite of putting in place every possible support.

A quick summary of each of the paradigms mentioned above shows how these could probably have an impact on the overall performance of each individual, and on the organization as a whole:

  • Growth mindset – Carol Dweck, in her research, differentiated between Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. For someone harboring a fixed mindset, it could be difficult to see how engaging in social learning and collaborating could make them perform better. Since they believe that intelligence is static, this can become an obstacle to change in behavior. On the other hand, people with growth mindset are likely to take every opportunity to pull the resources they need to perform better. They are usually the ones to volunteer information, ask questions and try out new ways of doing things. Recognizing those with a fixed mindset and providing them with the necessary support and coaching could lead to better performance.
  • Limiting beliefs – Related to fixed mindset, limiting beliefs constrain us in many ways. While as learning designers we may well think that someone’s personal limiting beliefs are not within our purview of work, it’s a reality that limiting beliefs can often adversely impact the outcome we expect. Hence, as L&D, we need to dig deeper and check for this, and if necessary, enable employees to overcome these through coaching, mentoring, job rotation, and so on. Even a well-designed programs will fail to achieve the desired performance outcome if not supported through other means. An interesting post on limiting beliefs here. People with growth mindset typically have enabling beliefs that take them forward. Thus, the same program and similar support can elicit different performance outcomes depending on whether the employee has a fixed mindset and limiting beliefs or the other binary – growth mindset with enabling beliefs.
  • Fear of failures – This could directly stem from the organizational culture and environment. An organisation that’s intolerant of mistakes, reprimands failures and discourages risk-taking isn’t likely to see a whole lot of change. Employees will find it safer to stick to the old ways than experiment with new ones. An enterprise collaboration platform might lie unused because employees don’t wish to display their ignorance.

It is important for L&D to recognize and take into consideration some of these so that when facilitating the learning-performance loop in organizations, they can focus on enabling the required changes. By facilitating an ecosystem that goes beyond training, L&D can enable performance change. The training represents one component – the formal one – of such an ecosystem. The knowledge and skills acquired via training could be supported through other means – informal and social – which is illustrated below:

These are just some of the associated factors that can have an impact on the overall performance of an organization. While orgs strive to design effective programs, create performance support tools, facilitate enterprise-wide collaboration by putting in place social platforms, and encourage transparency and sharing, they may still encounter less-than optimal performance and resistance. Probing may reveal some of the causes to be related to what is discussed here.     


Sometimes You Just Have to Ask It

I’ve been a student and practitioner of instructional design for quite some time.  In fact, during my professional career, I’ve often been “accused” of being too theoretical and not providing a solution that was practical.  In reality, however, I thought my solutions were practical but in the context of a proper theoretical framework.

I still advocate that approach but I modified it.  I’ve further reduced any reference to any theoretical construct.  Even more, I simply ask the question…”What do you want this person to do tomorrow that they cannot do today?”  Whether that “person” is a sales person, manager, or senior executive it seems like an appropriate question and one that you would assume would generate a relatively clear response.

Not so much.

Imagine this…your organization is about to launch a new product and they have requested training for all of the reasons we in the industry have heard before.  The product is not revolutionary and is simply an evolution of today’s offering.  “We’ve got to have training for everyone!” says the product manager who has the dubious honor of moving this product from the manufacturer through product management through finance through supply chain through merchandising through sales and then…finally…to the customer.

But wait, there’s more.

The training has to have all of the specs including its weight, resolution, tech specs, etc., etc.   Of course, there will have to be role plays to show how to sell it and, to close it all, a 10-question test to prove they know everything possible.

I think there’s a better way.

The instructional designer simply needs to ask “What do you want this person to do tomorrow that they do not do today?”  Knowing that the product is evolutionary (as compared to revolutionary), I would bet this would be a difficult question to answer.  I bet all of the tech specs are on Google and the sales process and behaviors are already being performed.  So, if this question cannot be answered with specifics, the argument to create training is, therefore, weak.

But, let’s assume the question can be answered and we take the high road.  Two elements are required…some of which I believe training professionals don’t spend enough time on.  First, state an objective of the training that is specific to the behavior you want to be demonstrated based on the question that was answered (“What do you want this person to do tomorrow that they do not do today?”).  Then, state three to five expectations that answer the question using action verbs that start each statement.

What you’ve created is a statement of purpose (why the training is needed) along with expectations of what the learner should accomplish.  Clear, simple, obvious…and it gives managers of those being trained a target from which they can coach.

So, don’t assume what the training should be…ask the difficult, yet obvious, question.

AT&T: The Marriage of Business and Learning

att globeFrom Chief Learning Officer magazine (May 20, 2013)

AT&T stays on top of the latest tools, technologies and methodologies to deliver learning to its global workforce while remaining in sync with business strategy. Contributing to its success is the company’s learning and development function, which works in close collaboration with the business to understand its needs and drive results. Meshing the learning strategy with the business helped propel AT&T to the No. 1 ranking in Chief Learning Officer magazine’s 2013 LearningElite.

From the start, AT&T’s learning strategy is in direct alignment with the company’s core business objectives. Before implementing its learning curriculum, key business groups get together, including AT&T’s corporate strategy and development group as well as its CEO. The learning and development organization is at the table from the get-go, working to ensure that its programs are in direct alignment with the corporate strategy.

“Once we find out what the five-year plans, three-year plans and next year’s plans are, then the CEO team [has] its offsite and they decide our company’s direction: [They say] ‘OK, what are we going to do over the next three to five years?’ They make their long-term planning,” said Ken Fenoglio, vice president of AT&T University. “Then they go to the board to get approval, and we’re right there with them in that planning process. We’re building our learning courses along the way so that we’re right in sync with the business planning process.”

Each business unit gets an action plan from the strategy team; the learning function then builds plans within the business units based on the annual three- and five-year planning process.

“It’s critical that we have people at the table working closely with leaders and others to help define our business objectives,” said Lew Walker, vice president of learning services at AT&T, “and then wrap our learning initiatives around those objectives so we can help the business meet and exceed their expectations, and ultimately deliver value back to our shareowners.”

In other words, no learning event is undertaken unless it has an impact on the bottom line.

“We don’t do the ‘sure would be nice’ training,” Fenoglio said.

Instead the company does pilot courses and administers test content to calibrate the planned training. Then there is a process of fine-tuning until the final product is ready and leadership approves. Then things are scaled and introduced to the masses.

After learning delivery the company uses Net Promoter Score, a metric to gauge customers’ willingness to recommend a product. Learners are asked if they’re willing to recommend the instructor or curriculum to co-workers.

Leadership commitment is another reason AT&T is the top LearningElite organization. Executives actively support a culture of learning at AT&T. In fact, senior leaders are involved in setting the agenda and shaping courses at AT&T University. Starting with the chairman and CEO on down through the ranks, leaders serve as instructors at the university.

“We believe totally in leaders as teachers,” Fenoglio said. “You don’t know your subject matter, you don’t know your business until you actually teach something. We have a nice blend of external and internal [instructors] that we have teaching [and] we really feel like that has gotten us a long way.”

AT&T University also has an advisory board made up of 14 senior leaders from across the company. These leaders make certain every program or course is aligned to business strategies. Fenoglio said nothing is done without their advice and counsel. “They tell us where the points of need are [and] where the business is driving,” he said. “They also make sure that we’re funded properly.”

More than half of AT&T University’s funding comes from the business units, which contributes significantly to buy-in, because if the business units don’t want or find value in something, they won’t pay for it. “And if they want more … they’re paying with their own checkbook,” Fenoglio said.

The learning services team, which is responsible for skills training, partners with the business to provide real-time training to employees on a daily basis. For instance, the team offers programs to help retail store representatives explain the seemingly endless features on wireless devices, TV services and platforms.

“The majority of my budget for learning services is funded by the clients, so they’ve got vested interest to ensure a great return on investment for the curriculum and deliver that content to people that work in their organization,” Walker said.

Meanwhile, AT&T has made efforts to ensure its use of technology in learning remains cutting-edge. Walker said the company is doing a lot of work related to mobile platforms and looking at gaming, even augmented reality. “We’re a technology company, and what we provide from a learning perspective needs to reflect the technology that we are taking out to our customers,” he said. “So all of those sexy things that everybody is talking about, we make it a reality.”

Some employees in AT&T’s retail stores and those who install AT&T U-verse — the company’s television service — now use iPads on the job. “They’ve got iPads and our training needs to reflect what they’re going to see when they get on the job, and so there’s a lot of work around that,” Walker said.

To that end, the learning team has created an effort under the leadership of Delia Hernandez, associate director of learning services at AT&T, to explore advanced learning technology. For instance, Walker anticipates augmented reality — a 3-D version of Web-based training that is still in its infancy — to gain steam in a few years.

“We can’t just be standing still and expecting that leader-led is going to have the impact that it had years ago,” Walker said, “but rather, [we use] technology to be more efficient in our training and hopefully stimulate a better learning experience.”

Even though AT&T keeps up with the latest technology in an effort to stay ahead of the curve, the company’s learning leaders know tools become moot if they don’t impact the business.

“While it’s great to say, ‘I’ve got gaming or I’ve got this,’ if it doesn’t impact the business and move the business forward and make our people better in terms of the jobs that they have to do, then there’s probably no reason to make that investment and make any of the changes that might be required by putting in some of these technologies,” Walker said.

That’s why the team evaluates the impact of any technology or training before rolling it out. At the end of the day, business impact comes first.

“We’re continually looking at how we can be more efficient with our training and make our end users as proficient as possible, so that when they go through our training they can do their jobs successfully and take care of their families and take care of their customers and make a good living,” Walker said. “We [consider] that very, very important within this organization.”

Theory v. Reality: There’s Room for Both

learning mapThis is a post from a Boise State student (I am an alum) in response to a webinar I participated in during 2010.  I welcome the conversation and have inserted my comments in blue.

“I feel like I should preface my write-up below by explaining that while I was listening to the webinar and reviewing the transcripts, I really was looking for an aha moment when I could apply what I had learned in class with what was being done in the field. While I had “my aha moment”, in that I was able to make this connection, it was not in the manner I was expecting. I hope I don’t seem like I am being too critical, as there was a lot of good information presented in the webinar. I am choosing to share this as my “aha” moment, because I think it makes a good correlation between the material learned in class and how it may be applied in the field. Also, not sure if I needed to add references, but since I can use the practice, I made an attempt. 

Elliot Rosenberg touched on several topics during his webinar with Dr. Steve Villachica on October 11, 2010. These topics included discussions on cross generational trainings and the fact that in 2020 there will be five generations in the workplace. However, the part that captured my attention was his discussion on training evaluations. Typically I find it nice to see how class material applies to the everyday world, but I was really confused and disappointed in what Rosenberg had to say about training evaluations. Here is the excerpt I am referring to in which Rosenberg describes the use of training evaluations (as copied from the webinar transcript): 

If Level Ones is a measure, I’m right there. Even Level Twos—but honestly, I don’t really care about level ones and twos—you have to understand it to see that if your project is at least on target, what really matters is the level threes and fours. And let’s not put all the stock into Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation; it’s possible lots of variable could impact it. The bottom line is, for me, are we making more sales? Are we reducing our employee turnover, and are we increasing customer satisfaction? Those are the three measures that guide the success of our efforts. It has nothing to do with levels, quite frankly—it’s all about the business. 

I feel like on one hand he is explaining how he uses training evaluations in his organization which follow Kirkpatrick’s theory, but then he makes statements like, “I don’t really care about level ones and twos..” “Let’s not put all the stock into Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation…” He identifies three questions he wants to answer at the end of a training session, but then follows up with the statement that they have nothing to do with levels. This is where I disagree. Rosenberg describes his bottom line as answering the following 3 questions: 

  1. Are we making more sales? 
  2. Are we reducing employee turnover? 
  3. Are we increasing customer satisfaction? 

I would argue that by answering the three questions above he is in fact completing a Level 4 results evaluation. Chyung (2008) describes a Level 4 evaluation as a look at results on the organization and examines if the training resulted in a behavior change that positively affected the organization. If the training allowed the sales managers to make more sales, reduced employee turnover and increased customer satisfaction, I would think that the training positively affected the organization. On the other hand if you had “No” answers to any of the questions – you might think there was a negative impact on the organization. Either way, the results from these three questions still represent a Level 4 Results evaluation since they identified how the organization was impacted by the training.”

Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation provide the framework from which ISD professionals can measure their work and, hopefully, impact.  However, without context for those measurements, they will mean nothing for your client.  

Now, in my case, my department is not funded by HR but, rather, by the sales organization.  While HR might find it OK to say that participants liked the training (L1) and they were able to pass a knowledge test after the class (L2), for a sales organization there is no link to their objective which is to make more sales.  And, if the learning organization can’t impact those results, why have them around?

If the implication is that I actually achieve a L4 result if I can impact all three questions, that might not work with someone who is skilled in ISD.  A nearly impossible task of isolating all of the variables that could impact L4 results is critical.  However, if I could imply that training had something to do with increased sales, reduced turnover, and improved customer satisfaction then we could have that discussion.  If you believe the 70/20/10 rule for formal vs informal learning (only 10% of learning is accomplished via a formal setting (ILT, for example), then it is only reasonable to assume that the other 90% is accomplished outside of the formal setting (20% from coaching and observations and the other 70% from simply gaining experience by doing the job), then you can see the diminished role that Kirkpatrick’s concepts have on learning, over the long term.  Even if you applied this line of thinking to the academic world, you should draw the same conclusions (IMHO).  

You have to start with Kirkpatrick but you must not end there.  Thoughts?

Risks Worth Taking

I’ve been at this social thing for about two years and, during that time, I’ve picked up on a few things.  One of them is to take some risks.  Here are a few of them:

  1. I put myself out there.  Personally on Facebook, professionally on Twitter.  LinkedIn, well, not so much but it just follows Twitter.  So far, I haven’t been sued, slandered upon, or embarrassed.  Still, I’ve only been at this for two years.
  2. I’ve found some real interesting people who know what they’re talking about.  And, even if I don’t agree with them, it opens up a discourse in the name of a shared interest.  No back and forth emails between just the two of us but, rather, a global conversation.  I like it.
  3. There are some odd folks out there.  Those with tens of thousands of tweets, following lots of people but zero followers.  You’ve got to keep your guard up.
  4. I would classify myself as an “early adopter” but, with respect to social networking, I’ve got some catching up to do.  Technology is not the issue but, rather, consistently challenging the creative person within.
  5. Finally, I am pushing the envelope with those with whom I work.  Yeah, there are risks but failure to at least try would be disadvantageous to all.

What social networking risks have you taken? Respond in the comments section!

Internet Time Alliance: Working Smarter (March 2012)

Thanks to the Internet Time Alliance for this content.

The Internet Time Alliance helps its clients understand and embrace complexity and adopt new ways of working and learning.

“When I Grow Up — Work Version”

From the Kevin Jones series of videos — which does videos to explain complex ideas more simply.  This one, however, seems pretty straightforward.

When we were young we would never have thought these things. Now, too many of us live it. When we take a step back and do a sanity check, we realize that there has to be a better way. And, of course, there is — but too often we don’t feel there is a way to make improvements. But I believe we can.

This was inspired by the Monster.com ad of 1999.

Here’s the original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJB0CzlzSwY

Training, social media books worth a read

Here are some good, industry-related books that have recently been published that I thought I would share.


  1. Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance by Jay Cross
  2. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas
  3. The New Learning Architect by Clive Shepherd
  4. The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today by Karie Wilyard and Jeanne Meister
  5. Waiting for “Superman”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools by Carl Weber
  6. Working Smarter Fieldbook, September 2010 edition by Jay Cross

Social Media

  1. The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media by Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham
  2. Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning by Jane Bozarth
  3. Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business by Erik Qualman
  4. The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World by David Kirkpatrick
  5. Social Learning Handbook by Jane Hart

Who Should Lead a Learning Organization?

Why are organizational leaders so stuck in the notion that leading a learning organization requires no knowledge of learning?  Either the individual can’t lead and can’t be terminated (“those who can, do…those who can’t, teach” mentality) or they believe that the individual is so good that a short stint in the training department will propel them to greatness.  Then someone else comes in, then someone else…each time starting from scratch because, of course, the new guy knows better.  Look, there goes the competition passing us by as we re-do stuff.

Or, is the right strategy to place a leader in the organization who knows the business AND knows learning.  What an opportunity to separate your business from the competition!!!

So, if it’s so clear, why has this scenario not been made into reality more often?

Content Consumption: 11 apps I enjoy

I’m beginning to get more and more efficient with all of the information that is out there. It’s impossible to consume it all so you really have to just pick what you like and move on.

Sharing: Besides Facebook (personal stuff) and Twitter (professional stuff), I use paper.li to aggregate all of the Twitter posts of people that I follow. Those with similar interests as mine will find this daily publication as a means to simply have this content pushed to them. Click here and hit “Subscribe” if you are interested in reading my daily publication.

News: I use iPad for my main content consumption tool. There are three news aggregators that I use: Flipboard, Zite and Pulse. All have unique elements and none of them duplicate each other entirely. Flipboard and Pulse pull from Google Reader, Twitter, and Facebook. Zite only pulls from Google Reader and Twitter but also gets “smarter” as you use it over time. I also subscribe to AppAdvice for information about apps.

Music: iPod or Pandora

Note taking: These are plentiful and all dependent upon style. I’m currently using Awesome Note. I also have a keyboard dock that makes taking notes over a long period of time very, very efficient and effective. Reliance on the virtual keyboard for an extended period of time is not a good idea.

Translations: Goolge Translate is pretty cool.

Productivity: As with many apps, these are plentiful as well. From financial bill paying apps to photoshop apps, there are plenty of tools to make your online experience work.

Books: iBooks and Kindle. Actually, I like the Kindle app better for its sharing potential and a wider inventory of choices.

I have nearly 100 apps (just about all of them were FREE) but only use a handful of them. I would bet that is the same for most users. So, what are you using and how are you using it?